THE SLEEPER WAKES -- HARLEM RENAISSANCE STORIES BY WOMEN
Cross Crossings Cautiously
Sam Timons rarely thought in the abstract. His thoughts as were his affections were marshalled concretely. His affections were rolled into a compact and unbreakable ball which encircled his wife Lettie and his young son Sammy. His thoughts -- he did not think much -- but such as his thoughts were, they involved this, if he did a good turn for somebody, somebody else would quite naturally do him or his a good turn also.
Usually Sam was a cheerful creature. Work and love; love and work, that, boiled down to brass tacks, is the gist of all life, and Sam possessed both. Even though at present, he was out of a job. He walked along the sandy road stirring up miniature dust clouds with every step for his heavy feet shuffled wearily with the burden of his dejected body.
He felt down and out. He was at the end of his rope. One dollar in his pocket. He gripped it in his fingers. All he had. But he could not give up. The ball of his affection, as it were, trundled along before him luring him on. He was "hoofing it" to another town to try again.
"Saw wood clean house, paint barns, chop weeds ... plow, anything, suh Just so it's work so's I can earn somethin'. I'm a welder by trade, but they don't hire cullud."
Behind him stretched the long, dusty way he had come. Before him a railroad zigzagged his path. As his feet lifted to the incline, he raised his eyes, and met advice from a railroad crossing sign:
CROSS CROSSINGS CAUTIOUSLY
He paused to spell out the words, repeating them painstakingly. Then he went on. A little beyond and across the tracks another huge sign caught his attention.
Soon, he had halted beside this one, letting his eyes sidle up and down and over the gaily painted board. Now he was staring open-mouthed at the glaring yellow lion who crouched to spring, now, at the flashy blond lady pirouetting on a snow white mount. He stood quite still thinking. Wouldn't Lettie and little Sam be wild to see such a show.
Sam swung around like a heavy plummet loosed from its mooring.
"Gee ... Mister, you 'fraid of me?"
A little girl hardly more than a baby addressed him. She was regarding him with the straight unabashed gaze of the very innocent and of the very wise.
"I want you to carry me to the circus," she announced, when their mutual survey of one another seemed to her enough.
Sam's eyes were fixed on the web-fine, golden hair escaping from two torn places in the child's hat. Already he had seen that the eyes searching his were blue.... He fidgeted. He made a move to go.
"Oh, don't, don't go," beseeched the child. "Mother has to 'tend a meeting, and father is always busy. There is no one else. Mother said I might if only somebody'd take me. See." She thrust out a little smudgy fist -- and opening it, revealed a shiny new fifty-cent piece. "This is mine," she said plaintively, "Can't we go?"
Mrs. Maximus McMarr was a busy woman. She managed to attend fourteen clubs each week, but that excluded any time to manage Claudia, her five-year-old daughter. Claudia's father considered children woman's responsibility. One advantage or disadvantage this sort of bringing up gave Claudia, she always got what she wanted.
Something about her made Sam do her bidding now.
They were half way between the McMarr place and the circus grounds before he thought about what he was doing. He clutched at the dollar in his pocket. He wanted to laugh, guessed he was nervous. Suddenly, he stopped abruptly -- there was another of those signs where the train's right-of-way intersected another dusty country road.
CROSS CROSSINGS CAUTIOUSLY
"Oh do come on," urged the child jerking his hand in an ecstasy of delight and impatience.
Further on a half-grown lad passed them, but stopped and turned to watch them down the road. As the man and the little girl drew out of sight, he faced about and pelted up the road.
The noise of the circus leapt up to meet and welcome Sam and Claudia. The music of the band was sweet to their ears. Sam reveled in it and Claudia's little feet danced over the road. Even the bellowing and roars of the wild animals left them undismayed. It was circus day.
Mrs. McMarr had alighted from a friend's car and remained standing beside it, to talk. Both women observed the runner at the same time. Mrs. McMarr felt her heart skid upward into her throat. Claudia had not appeared. She divined that the messenger tended evil for no other than her precious baby. She made up her mind to swoon even before she received the tidings.
The friend went in search of McMarr who for once allowed himself an interruption. Close-lipped, he tumbled off his harvester and rushed pell-mell across his field.
All afternoon, Claudia had been surfeited with care. One after another had tendered and petted and caressed her. Even her father had been solicitous. She curled up, drowsy and very tired, in the big arm chair.
The rain that had threatened to fall all day suddenly commenced like the tat-a-rat-tat of far-off drums. Claudia was wide awake. She sat up. Remembering. The circus band! The monkeys in their little red coats! Her circus man! Something had happened. What?
The impulse to know surmounted the fear she harbored of her father. She slipped over to his chair. He had been very kind today. Perhaps ... he wouldn't mind telling her ... Where her circus man was?
FROM OPPORTUNITY, JUNE 1930